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Be ready for quick switch to remote learning, BOCES warns

MALONE — School officials within the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES region are warning families to prepare for sudden changes to fully remote learning due to new state COVID-19 guidelines, even when there’s no confirmed threat that the virus is spreading.

The main issue is a new rule giving 48 hours until a student or staff member is “presumed positive.” On Friday, the state Department of Health issued updated guidelines about when students and staff can come to school and when they have to stay home. If a student or staff member has any COVID-19 symptoms — which range from a fever to something as common as a headache or runny nose — they have 48 hours to see a doctor and either receive a negative COVID-19 test result or get diagnosed with something other than COVID-19. If they can’t do that, school and health department officials must presume that the person is positive.

That means not only that student or staff member has to stay home from school, but also that the school and health department have to start the contact tracing process, potentially quarantining at home additional students and teachers who may have had contact the person who is presumed positive.

As cold and flu season begins, officials expect this situation to arise frequently since COVID-19 shares many symptoms with the flu and the common cold.

Schools within the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) region are concerned that this new policy could grind operations to a halt and force all classes to go fully remote. Currently, at least one school district within the 10-district FEH BOCES area, St. Regis Falls, is planning to close this week because of a small number of students needing to be presumed positive.

Since testing became widely available in the North Country, it’s been rare for those who get a COVID-19 test to get results back within 48 hours. Access to rapid testing is very limited in the region, and even when it is available, some doctors won’t accept rapid tests as a definitive diagnosis. Many doctors don’t have the availability to see their patients within that time frame as well.

“Our main concern is that many of these presumed positive cases will make it look like we have an outbreak of the virus, when it’s more related to our limitations on access to doctors and timely COVID test results,” said FEH BOCES District Superintendent Dale Breault. “We take confirmed cases very seriously, and all of our school leaders in the region are committed to working to ensure that families get the medical care they need.”

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